Taliban, al-Qaeda linked to Kashmir
By John Diamond, USA TODAY WASHINGTON — Al-Qaeda and Taliban members are helping organize a terror campaign in Kashmir to foment conflict between India and Pakistan, U.S. intelligence officials and foreign diplomats say. The strategy of the terrorist network and its allies in the ousted Afghan government: Relieve pressure on al-Qaeda members hiding in western Pakistan by forcing the Pakistani government to move troops searching for the terrorists to the eastern border with India. Destabilize the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf by raising tensions with India and pushing Musharraf to crack down on domestic Islamic militants who support al-Qaeda. Pakistan and India, the world’s newest nuclear powers, both claim all of Kashmir, the Himalayan region that straddles their border. They have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Al-Qaeda’s ability to coordinate terrorist activities in Kashmir worries U.S. officials because it indicates the war in Afghanistan hasn’t put the group out of business. The shift of Pakistani troops to the Indian border leaves U.S. operatives in western Pakistan without crucial allies to pursue al-Qaeda leaders that might include Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pakistan’s offensive against al-Qaeda in the west has fizzled as forces move to the tense Indian border, a top Pentagon official says. Intelligence officials have yet to link al-Qaeda or the Taliban conclusively to specific acts, such as the attack on the Indian parliament Dec. 13, which touched off the latest crisis, or Tuesday’s shooting of seven people in a Kashmiri village, apparently by Muslim guerrillas. Some Pentagon and CIA officials are not ready to ascribe al-Qaeda activities in Kashmir to a coordinated terrorist campaign. But sources familiar with U.S. Intelligence analysis say al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan are helping terrorists they had trained in Afghanistan to infiltrate Indian-controlled territory. Their goal, says one U.S. Intelligence official, is to “cause the biggest problem between India and Pakistan that they possibly can.” The intelligence is coming from interrogations of al-Qaeda and Taliban members, as well as information supplied by intelligence organizations in Pakistan and India, the officials say. Robert Oakley, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, says that if al-Qaeda “can do something to bring India and Pakistan to war, that’s wonderful for them because it relieves pressure on them.” A link between al-Qaeda and Kashmiri militants would pose an awkward problem for the United States, which would have trouble carrying out its war against al-Qaeda and still remain neutral in the India-Pakistan dispute. Musharraf’s government, which fears the conflict could turn Pakistan’s Muslims against his pro-U.S. regime, denied charges by India on Tuesday that Pakistan is harboring al-Qaeda terrorists in Kashmir.